Mortgage Lifters

$3.00

Radiator Charlie’s
Mortgage Lifter Tomato

Mortgage Lifters are a distinctly West Virginian heirloom; a testament to the mountaineer spirit of resilience.
They are tasty without being acidic, and the flattened, pinkish fruits get as big as our mountains.
1-4 pounds

from TomatoGeek
Pay your mortgage with heirloom tomatoes? It sounds pretty unbelievable today, but in the early 1930s, Marshall Cletis Byles did just that in his home town of Logan, West Virginia.

His story is an unusual one: Byles owned a small repair shop at the bottom of a mountain which was well known for making trucks overheat. The location of his shop generated a steady business as trucks overheated on the mountain and had to roll back down for some much necessary radiator work. This is where he earned his nickname “Radiator Charlie”. Despite the prominent location of his shop, the Great Depression was looming and Byles was looking for other ways to keep afloat.

Radiator Charlie didn’t have an easy life: he started working in the cotton fields of North Carolina at the age of 4, and as a result didn’t get adequate education. Yet he went on being a pilot, a wrestler, a mechanic, and then succeeding in growing one of the most popular heirloom tomatoes in the country.

Here's an audio interview with Radiator Charlie's Grandson
from Living on Earth


stream/download this segment as an MP3 file.

per pound

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M.C. "Radiator Charlie" Byles shows off the fruits of his labor, the Mortgage Lifter tomato, for a Virginia newspaper in the mid-1960s. (Photo courtesy of Jeff McCormack)
M.C. "Radiator Charlie" Byles shows off the fruits of his labor, the Mortgage Lifter tomato, for a Virginia newspaper in the mid-1960s. (Photo courtesy of Jeff McCormack)
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